Saudi women want more sway in religious affairs

TO KEEP women quiet, Saudi Arabia’s clerical hierarchy once damned their voices as awra, an Arabic word for genitalia. The late Sheikh Abdelaziz Bin Baz, the kingdom’s top official cleric, opined that women should stay at home to reduce the risk of adultery. In 1994 he ordered the kingdom’s withdrawal from a UN conference because its support for equality between the sexes was “against God’s law”.

Two decades on Saudi female scholars are widely heard. They are penetrating the courts, mosques and universities, and can be heard giving sermons online. Nawal al-Eid, a preacher with her own women’s centre in Riyadh, has 5m followers on Twitter, more than almost any male cleric. “As long as you are qualified, you can speak up,” says Noura al-Hassawi, the director of research at Princess Nourah University’s Islamic Sciences department, the kingdom’s largest for women. “As a scholar, my opinion is equal to a man’s.”

Secular Saudi feminists won…

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